May 16, 2020
Contributors Latest News | Coronavirus | Bangor Metro | Police Surveillance | Today's Paper

Death of a bartender: The reality of COVID-19’s effect on an industry

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
A sign outside Skip's Lounge in Buxton on Saturday gives voice to a business owner's frustration over the coronavirus shutdown.

Click here for the latest coronavirus news, which the BDN has made free for the public. You can support our critical reporting on the coronavirus by purchasing a digital subscription or donating directly to the newsroom.

As I prepare for going back to work, I wonder how it will all play out. Will I have as many customers? Will customers even show up? Will I get as many hours? Will my workplace be able to abide by the state’s guidelines for reopening? How drastically will my income be decreased by all of this? And, will I be able to live on that income?

I also wonder: Am I the only one wondering?

I see so many of my fellow restaurant and bar workers getting excited, pumped up, even, to go back to work. And don’t get me wrong, I am excited, too. And before you jump to conclusions, no, I don’t want to not go back to work just because unemployment is netting me almost as much as my usual income. I am going crazy at home, sometimes quite literally. I want to go back to work. I miss my customers. I miss my co-workers. I might even miss my boss.

But I am also painfully aware of how different work life will look like now. And how incredibly improbable it will be to earn a living wage doing what we’ve always loved.

Maine has a 5-page checklist for restaurant reopening. I get it. Most, if not all of it, is necessary in order to keep our customers and staff safe. But, holy, five pages. The checklist for bars is still being written.

Employee training, seating capacities, seating arrangements, partitions, face shields, cleaning supplies, masks, gloves, limiting number of customers in the restaurant, limiting number of customers per party, disposable condiments and utensils, restrictions on counter service for alcohol, collecting contact information for every party, and on, and on, and on.

As a bartender, handling numerous bottles of alcohol, mixers, shakers, wine bottle openers, beer bottle openers, beer taps (the list goes on), my personal favorite is “limit sharing of handheld equipment … and other tools and equipment between employees to the extent possible.” For my industry, that suggestion is pretty impossible, almost silly. But thanks, governor.

Speaking of bartending, what about bar service? Under the checklist for restaurants, we will be allowed to have customers at the bar only if they are 6 feet apart from one another. (Oh, and don’t forget the other rule, if the bar doesn’t provide 6 feet between the customer and staff, there must be partitions, or the bartenders must wear a mask and a face shield.)

I don’t know about other places, but my bar isn’t that big. By the 6-foot rule, I will have possibly three customers at my bar. The bar I will be going back to initially is not even a bar, but more a “station,” so there won’t be any bar seating anyway.

Even in a regular bar, inside a restaurant or not, we will be primarily serving walk-up customers (at a slow pace to abide by social distancing), and mixing drinks for a limited waitstaff, that may or may not be required to tip out their bartenders. Even if they are required to tip us, their income is going to decrease significantly, also. So the tip-out, if required, will be nominal.

In the excitement of returning to work, hoping and pretending things will be as they were, has anyone considered the impact this will have on our livelihood?

I’m sure they have. I know they have. And everyone is trying to stay positive and hopeful. And I get that, too. Hope has been the only thing that has gotten us through this so far.

Although I’m not a pessimist, I am a realist. And no matter how optimistic I try to be, the grim reality is that, after 20 years of bartending, I will most likely no longer be able to support myself in an industry that I love, that has been home to me, for most of my life.

Crista Jakacky of Glenburn is a bartender.

 


Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

You may also like